May 21, 2012

Watson's swings and roundabouts

When Shane Watson returned from injury, it was to a changed side and a modified role. He talks about his time outside, and the captaincy

In a largely triumphant summer for Australia, Shane Watson cut a quite enigmatic figure. He was oddly missing from the central passages of the summer, Test matches at home to New Zealand and India, as his recovery from hamstring and calf problems took close to three months. But on his return he led Australia's ODI team at home and away, then took on the role of No. 3 batsman in the West Indies. He spoke to ESPNcricinfo about a summer of joys but also of rude awakenings.

You had a strange summer - an active part on tours to Sri Lanka, South Africa and the West Indies, but with a great, gaping hole in the middle.
It's been a summer that really gave me time to reassess where I was at physically, especially to be able to try and get through the cricket I wanted. After playing a lot through Sri Lanka, then South Africa as well, there's no doubt the summer was a big disappointment, not to be able to play a part in any of that, especially the success we had against India.

In the end I learned a lot more things about myself - what I need and what's required to give myself the best chance to play consistently. For it to finish the way it has, be part of a winning West Indian series and be able to captain a few games as well, was something I really enjoyed. A few swings and roundabouts, but in the end there's been a few really good experiences I've learned a lot from.

Why did it take so long to come back from what appeared to be fairly minor hamstring and calf injuries?
My hamstring issue was something that came about in the latter part of the South Africa tour. Coming back from it, doing some running to get some load into my hamstring, my calf ended up going. It ended up coming back to the reason why I had soft-tissue injuries when I was younger. Most had to do with the nerve side of things and back injuries at a young age. So it took quite a while to settle down and through some intervention try to find ways to settle my nervous system down through my lower limbs. That's why it took quite a while, because as soon as I started to get up and running again, with my calf issue, the nerve issue kept tightening up.

It was a very important time across the summer to reassess where I was at physically and put things into place that I know had worked previously. And playing so much cricket, I have to be on top of every single thing and have the continued right guidance to ensure I'm doing all I possibly can to get through.

Fairly early in your convalescence you stated that you wanted to come back into the Test team as a batsman and then work into bowling. That clearly did not happen. Were you told that the team wanted you back as an allrounder?
In the end, the way it worked out was that the time I could actually get back and play was as an allrounder straight up. Initially, with the hamstring injury you can play as a batsman, but after being out for as long as I was, it meant the longer you leave it, the longer it takes to get back up and going. The way the fixtures were meant I could play grade cricket, then go into a Shield game and get some time in the middle as well - by the time I got back I hadn't batted for two and a half months - to get some touch back. It worked out that I was able to get into my bowling straight away as well. At other times in the past, if it's just been a niggle or something like that, I've been able to get back as a batsman right away then come back into it as a bowler. But this time the situation meant I was back as an allrounder.

Your first-class return was in a fairly traumatic game for New South Wales, against Western Australia at the WACA ground - a hefty innings defeat. How jolting was that?
That was an absolute debacle really. To play in a game where we performed so poorly was something that opened my eyes. I've been around the NSW squad for a couple of years now and just to see the different stages guys were at in their careers - some were coming back from being in and around the Australian squad and playing Shield cricket and trying to perform and push their way back into the Australian team. That alone provides a lot of different dynamics to the team. That's something NSW needs to make sure of - that everyone really knows their role in the team and how to fulfil that role.

It was a very interesting game to be a part of, knowing NSW and how successful it has been, I'm sure that's as low as they can really get, and if they don't learn out of that game alone, there's a lot of signs there to show what's required to get back to having the structure exactly right.

"I think it was a really good thing to have someone with no preconceived ideas about what's required for the team to be at their best. That's really what he's brought, a fresh set of eyes"
Watson on Mickey Arthur's appointment as Australia coach

Do you mean that players dropped from the national team come back to their state with a very narrow focus of getting themselves right rather than contributing to a winning team?
Not so much that - it's the whole thing about playing for Australia and the scrutiny that you're under. Everyone seems to know your faults, and they do because everyone's seen what you're doing on national TV. Then coming back and finding ways of being able to score runs - if you've been dropped it means you're not scoring runs. So it means you're either technically or mentally not in the greatest place. It just means guys are probably going to be struggling to try to find ways to work out what's been going on and how they can turn all those fortunes around. I wouldn't say it's selfish at all, but I am saying it is more about trying to find a way to handle what's just happened in your career, because everyone's dream is to play for Australia and when that's taken away from you because of your performances, it takes a bit of time to get back in the right direction to achieve your goal again.

Back into the Australian team via the triangular series in February - how different a set-up did you return to? Things were still quite transitional when you left them in South Africa.
Things had certainly changed quite significantly really, from Mickey [Arthur] and all the things he'd put in place through the whole summer, with Pat Howard and his role, and also the new selectors being there as well. So it was a very different feel around the group. Especially after the success that the team had during the Test series [against India], there was a great feel about what was being put in place. It was a very exciting time to come back into the team, where things were starting to be put in place about continuing to see improvement as a team, with fresh faces.

What did you feel had changed around the team?
It's not like what guys have done has reinvented the wheel. Things were pretty similar, but more so the way Mickey operates is being really concise and structured in how we're going to do things on the training field. Different coaches have different philosophies on how they're able to operate. It was a significant change from what Tim [Nielsen] had put in place, and there's no doubt that there were changes from having fresh eyes and a fresh face coming in. That's what Mickey's provided - having a fresh set of eyes coming outside Australian cricket. I think it was a really good thing to have someone with no preconceived ideas - apart from playing against Australia - about what's required for the team to be at their best. That's what he's brought, a fresh set of eyes. As Pat Howard has as well, not being from cricket at all. It means they've got a very different perspective on what they see, and they don't have any preconceived ideas about what's expected.

You seemed to have an attitude change across your absence, from clearly wanting to come back as an opener to simply wanting to get back into the team in whatever role you could. You became a little less particular?
No doubt. I did love opening the batting in Test cricket, there's no doubt, and that's where I've had my success. But even when I was at the start of my injury period, once Mickey had taken over, I talked to him about what the best position is for me to try to fit into the team as an allrounder. We talked quite a bit about whether it was opening, whether it was batting No. 3 or lower in the order; to try to balance being an allrounder as well as we could. That was always being talked about anyway.

At the time I had no idea about batting anywhere else, really. I knew I had a lot of success opening, so that's where I felt most comfortable. But in the end you just want to play, and being out for three months you just want to be back into a successful environment and able to contribute. So my mindset outwardly was changed. It was a point I'd talked to Michael [Clarke] about where the best place would be and juggling being an allrounder as best we could. Batting three in the West Indies is something I really appreciated, the time to mentally and physically relax, even if it's only a little bit.

You had time as a captain in two limited-overs series at home and in the West Indies. What did you find most challenging?
Being a selector is a challenge that provides a different aspect to being a captain and something that has a different complexity. But on the field it's more so - seeing what your gut instincts are, and only when you're put in the position of having to make decisions at certain times do you realise the extent of what you've learned in ten years of first-class cricket. That's been the thing I've enjoyed the most, seeing what is inside of your mind come out.

The challenges for me were the most exciting things, trying to find ways of being successful in the latter periods of one-dayers, which we still haven't been able to nail in that batting Powerplay, and also the latter five or ten overs. That's something that I enjoyed - the challenge of how we were going to execute better but also how we can do it differently to be more successful. Also, talking about what the best balance of the batting line-up is and trying to get the best out of everyone in new conditions. Those challenges were the most enjoyable things about it, really challenging my cricket knowledge and using it as best I can.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Roo on May 24, 2012, 15:57 GMT

    Funny how Watson said early in the year that he would now come on only as a batsman & would be a opener in Tests... I guess CA rang him up & said a sub 40 batting average (@37) isn't good enough to keep him in the team let alone an opener... Also that bad case of hypochondria he caught as a kid still seems to plague him... Add to that, dropping catches in the slips & running out partners, he at times becomes a liability... Having a higher batting average in ODI's than Tests shows his inability to handle long concentration periods & may be where he finishes his career...

  • Christopher on May 24, 2012, 10:32 GMT

    With respect to your points on Watson@Meety,one has to observe the mental equation,given his poor returns batting down the order that cannot be explained in technical terms in a position that is widely regarded as being less testing. It must be understood that Watson will never be able to bowl more extensively,no matter where he bats. It has resulted in the familiar injuries on every occasion that it has been tried,bringing into question the acumen of Arthur who has publicly stated that he is prepared to throw all bowlers to the injury wolves.Needless to say,I have a very low regard for Arthur's intelligence.Ultimately,no matter the theorising,only the capacity to observe everything exactly as it is can motivate the road to solution. Watson is an excellent player who has limited stamina and an injury prone body.As a result,he has had virtually no capacity to influence a match with the bat and energy spent imagining otherwise resolves nothing.He is neither a strike nor a stock bowler.

  • Christopher on May 24, 2012, 10:16 GMT

    I named the 4-0 result of the series before India arrived in Australia @Meety. I prefaced it at the time by saying that the Indian side were incapable of being competitive in Australia with their injury plagued, threadbare bowling line up, no reserves and a batting line up mentally beaten after England. Zaheer was returning from a very lengthy injury lay off with no first class cricket or fitness. Ishant arrived with a known ankle injury that had long needed surgery. With due respect,India were incapable of being competitive and the captaincy of Dhoni in Perth to the openers was both inexplicable and worthy of investigation,particularly given Dhonis knowledge of Warner from IPL and the proliferation of information regarding where to set a field in Perth and how to bowl. I regard the results obtained under such circumstances to have little or no merit. With respect to Watson,he has played virtually only Tests since his debut making only those results relevent in any comparison.

  • Andrew on May 23, 2012, 23:15 GMT

    @hyclass - there is enough to suggest you are right re: fatigue etc, however, Watto's FC stats (minus Tests), are not too bad in terms of conversions. I don't think batting down the order will manke him any better a batsmen, however, I think its more acceptable to have a #6 who averages (assuming he can do so) with a poor conversion rate, particularly if they are good for a 2 or 3 wickets a match. I don't think it is fair to write off the entire Indian series as a "fait compli" as India were well in the contest in the 1st test. India were better prepared with less injury concerns than their ill fated tour of England. If we start writing off test results for those type of reasons - pretty soon we will have no victors who receive their fair due (IMO). Anyways - I know your feelings about how Watto came to be an opener, but playing "what ifs" - what if Watto stayed as an opener - played 100 tests (unlikely) & had an ave of 40-42 (opening), regardless of 100s - wouldn't that be par?

  • Christopher on May 23, 2012, 11:13 GMT

    @Meety...the dichotomy with Watson is brought about by the idea that being an all-rounder is behind his lack of conversion. Even his 2 Test centuries relied upon multiple dropped catches. His technique and willingness to attack make him valuable as an opener, although it must be evident that his career strike rate is almost the same as Katich. The explanation is clearly in his lack of stamina. Its not a lack of character. His muscle mass simply tires faster than is usual. Hence,he regularly races to 30,slows to 40,crawls to 50 and is then out.A change in batting position will not resolve it. He has better and worse days but this is a customary pattern. I was interested in his characterisation of Nielsens time or rather his avoidance of detail. I would also disregard the India series in Australia which was a fait accompli long before a ball was bowled. The Indian team lacked any semblence of a bowling attack and possessed a mentally tired and beaten batting line up after England.

  • Andrew on May 22, 2012, 23:36 GMT

    @Sriraj G.S - re: decisions, your wording could of been better as you did say "...poor and marginal umpiring decisions..." - but accept your clarification. re: Trolls - if there was plenty of articles on here, I wouldn't of bothered, but it was a slow day!

  • Dummy4 on May 22, 2012, 8:26 GMT

    @Meety: The LBWs were marginal, yes. But I'm referring to the 1st innings let off of Strauss when he nicked behind and Sammy didn't review because he had just wasted one. And I also meant the decision was poor (not the umpires!). And come on, let's not be technical/ethical when replying to troll posters!!! ;)

  • Andrew on May 22, 2012, 6:07 GMT

    @Sriraj G.S - whilst I think it's fair to say that England had an advantage from winning the toss, from what I understand of the match, the umpiring had been great. The WIndies didn't have much luck as could be seen in the Trott v Chanders LBW, but they were close calls that could of gone either way no matter which umpire was officiating. @landl47 - Watson's ave as an opener is ABOVE Strauss, @ almost 44, with 2 tons in 45 innings (as opener). He has also hit 15 50s as an opener which is at a BETTER rate than Cook (2.64 v 2.66 almost similar, this is 50+ scores). Watson does have a conversion problem which is not so evident in his FC stats (Tests removed), so YES, I do think he is better able to serve Oz @#6 or #7, however, I disagree that he is NOT an opener.

  • Dummy4 on May 22, 2012, 4:35 GMT

    England learnt everything they know from Australia's success and as the changing of the guard happens with Australia it won't take too long for Australia to beat England. Watch out for 2013 !

  • John on May 22, 2012, 2:27 GMT

    Watson, with a test average of 37.54 and only 2 centuries in 64 innings, should be batting at 6 or 7 and making more use of his bowling. He's a decent enough all-rounder, but not a test opener or #3.

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